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The Challenge of Traditional Methodology and Modern Technology: Local Oral Histories, the Internet, and the History Undergraduate

By Jacquelyn Kent

The value of the historical narrative to local history is invaluable, but often ignored as newly trained historians look to the broader picture. As students are trained in traditional methodologies, the examples presented tend to be larger area narratives. As a result, most history undergraduates look to research topics through primary and secondary source materials that look at this larger area, seeing little value in this local history.

Undergraduate students at Florida Gulf Coast University must complete a senior exit course that examines theories of history, methodologies of studying history, and presentation of materials through traditional means. This format did not include the University's mission of graduating technologically proficient students. Students traditionally examined local history through primary and secondary source paper documents and wrote a narrative on that topic, usually in a somewhat cursory manner. The author, in attempting to meet both department and University missions, adapted the course to include utilization of the new technologies in the gathering of information, in the application of oral history methodology, and in the presentation of materials through publication on the world wide web. Students researched a local family, conducted oral interviews, and created websites containing a narrative on the findings. This required specific training in the location of local sources and evaluation of online sources, in the methodology and technology of oral history, and in construction of websites. However, this led to many questions as to the value of the technologies in the training of historians.

This paper will address some of the issues raised, such as: Does the student learn to properly present the historical narrative when publishing online? Does s/he learn to evaluate and examine online historical sources accurately and does his/her experience of creating an online source diminish or enhance this evaluation? Are students qualified to produce accurate historical narratives based on oral history interviews and local research or is this relegated only to the professional historian? Do students benefit from integration of the new technologies or should they be left out of the classroom?